Urban Kempo has been in Arlington for just over a year now and people are beginning to know about it. Still, the word “Kempo” lacks the household recognition as say, Crossfit, Spin or Yoga, all of which have successfully carved out niches in the adult mainstream workout circuit.

So I wanted to take a quick glance at these three alternatives to the globogym model in efforts to simplify why Kempo continues to skate around the outskirts of the adult mainstream workout scene:

Crossfit: Seemingly America’s masculine response to yoga—it is intense, ultra-competitive, muscle stacking and rough on your joints! You’ll get your adrenaline fix and you’ll throw on the extra muscle and explosiveness that enables you to toss up a heavy bar with hundreds of pounds of iron on it—a solid hour of workout manliness. As for its practical utility, it’s minimal unless you’re training as a stunt double for a high-octane action flick or for a high impact professional sport. Indeed a lot of boxers and cross trainers practice crossfit. It is fun, extreme, and highly effective at accomplishing its athletic goals.

Spin—Also quite American in character, it is quick, to the point, monotonous, intense and in some cases highly competitive. For professionals on a tight schedule, you’ll get a bangin’ cardio workout in a short amount of time. While it lacks an effective total body workout, the sweat you’ll have to show for it makes you feel like you indeed got one. If you’re looking to keep your workout as quick and simple as possible, you will bang out your cardio, get your workout fix and be on with some extra pep in your step for the rest of the day!

Yoga—I gotta take my hat off these folks, and I feel the need to mention here, that I actively practice yoga. How the original pitchers of this art succeeded in usurping the American workout landscape with an Indian, vegan and spiritual workout form…I’ll never quite understand, but some academic with expertise in pop culture should write a book about it because I’d read it! To its credit, yoga is a healthy total body workout that builds practical strength and emphasizes breathing, flexibility and balance. With the exception of some forms, yoga minds the joints and is the healthiest of the aforementioned workouts. It is less intense than crossfit and can be highly repetitive, although not nearly as much as spin.

But while all of these diverse styles have exploded onto the mainstream adult workout circuit, how come martial arts like Kempo have not? After all, Kempo offers a healthy total body cardio workout that builds muscle, increases balance and flexibility, and cultivates the practical skill of self-defense.

After a lot of meditation on this subject, I came up with only one clear answer—SPANDEX!

The one thing that Crossfit, Spin and Yoga have in common is spandex! It has become so commonplace that is the norm. So much so that it characterizes our everyday wardrobe in addition to our preferred fitness attire. We wear it to the café, to the store, to our childrens’ schools—we love to see our selves looking fit and we want everybody else to observe and bear witness!

Contrarily, when you enroll in a dojo the very first thing we do is give you a gi—an oversized jacket and pants that shrouds your awesomeness! Yes, we want you to shroud yourself, partly due to the ancient cultural tradition of the martial arts, but also so that our practitioners can focus on the task at hand.

I don’t care who you are, if you are working out at a yoga, spin or crossfit gym—admit it—you are spending just as much time checking out your peers and/or comparing yourself to them as you are working out! As a person who has spent a considerable amount of time working out in these environments, I too plead guilty here.

The gi answers that dilemma in simple fashion—cover it up so you can focus on what is important.

I am 100% certain that if Urban Kempo changed its dress code, if I taught women dressed like that girl in the above picture how to use nunchucks, that we would convert a slew of crossfitters, spinners and yogis. But I don’t, I teach Kempo to people dressed in full gi’s like Tracy (below, and yes, I chose a somewhat goofy shot to accentuate my point so what! You get it).


Daring to do martial arts means not only daring to do something different, but wearing something different. And what one wears has an enormous impact on one’s self image and as a result, comfort level.

The gi is simply not normal and it never will be. Or it least its not supposed to be. Personally, I’ve always tended to challenge the status quo because I find it boring. And if its not boring now, it will be soon. Thats just the way it goes. The reality is that if the right forward thinkers decide to make the jump into the gi, then the masses will follow–pop culture in a nutshell. Personally, and I could be bias here, I think Urban Kempo is on its way in that direction and I am thrilled to see our adult classes grow.

So there is my answer! The only real impediment to Kempo in it's quest for the adult mainstream is SPANDEX! 

Give me a dojo full of half naked people and I’ll show you a dojo full of a much wider range of consumers. Shoot, we’re already seeing studios’ attempt at this in the form of UFC Gym, cardio kickboxing and body combat schools. But these are not martial arts schools and thus enjoy a greater leeway in negotiating their martial arts image with popular cultural tastes and preferences. The actual UFC's heritage, in addition, are in gi-oriented cultures. But the promoters realized the same thing that I'm getting at here--in order to mainstream efficiently, the gi had to come off.

Meanwhile, schools like Urban Kempo are destined to remain true to tradition, and are thus destined to the outskirts of the mainstream. But hey, that keeps us authentic and lets face it, how many of us ever really felt like we belonged in the mainstream anyway?

Forever spandexless,